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Snake Handlers: Can Religion Be An Addiction?

Scott Bailey discusses the stupidity of belief when it clearly puts us in harm’s way as it did. Case in point: A preacher who died while handling serpents in the same way his father died – from a snakebite.

(T)o remain this willfully ignorant and stupid is simply stunning… to pretend that you can do magic in the age we live in… to ignore the real, actual, predictable, repeatable, testable, provable knowledge that has been accumulated in the last couple of hundred years and to kill yourself for a ridiculous ‘belief’… *sigh*, on some levels I just don’t get it.

This is why I reject such ridiculous relativistic statements such as, “It’s OK to believe what you believe. I believe what I believe.” Are all beliefs equal? Are all beliefs harmless? No, because there is something that is called ‘knowledge’ and it trumps ridiculous, ignorant ‘beliefs’ every time. – via Are All Beliefs Harmless? «.

I liken this kind of ignorance to something called a “dry-drunk.” This is someone who is by all accounts an alcoholic and has found a way to be abstinent from booze. They go to meetings, hang out with other sober people, and act as if they are sober people. But they are utterly miserable. Dry drunks are miserable because they are still in denial that they are contributing to their misery and have caused most of it. The rationale for misery is, If I am not making myself miserable, it must be that other people around me are the cause of my misery.

A twelve step program is in essence cognitive therapy to reconstruct one’s thinking processes in a source that is outside of those thinking processes, e.g. a “higher power.” But denial is so powerful that many don’t make it far enough to break its cycle. Most of those people are so miserable without alcohol that they go back to drinking convinced everyone is wrong – even if these same people people can prove to that dry drunk that his or her drinking will result in institutions, jail, or death.

I think religion can do the same thing to people that addiction does. An addiction starts because it feels good. It ends because someone no longer does it to feel good but to feel normal. At that point the high is never high enough. All physical limits are ignored and the user seems to have lost all limits of use. He or she will go to any lengths to get to that next high. If religion is rooted in pure emotional experience and a sort of endorphine rush, why can’t we call out an addictive pattern when we see it?

In my own experience I have seen many people drop out of religion altogether because they decided to give up on traditions that were hurting them as soon as the need for the experience died off. In complete defeat these people left religion feeling defeated and hopeless. Once a source of life, religion became a source of misery and pain. This is what an addict calls “hitting bottom.” It is that point of total defeat where options survival options have run out. Without a way to process that pain and anger, the spectre of religious addiction continues to weigh down the recovering religious. Yet there aren’t many places like AA for a recovering religion addict to go. When someone is sick and tired of being sick and tired of religion itself, where is the program of healing? That’s a good question.

A while ago I was thinking about starting a group for people who have been broken by religion in order to find a way to recover in a healthy way. Maybe this is something to reconsider. If we are broken by a snake bite it’s insane to try it again expecting a different result.

About Andrew Tatusko

Secularization, critical pedagogy, sometimes agnostic, politics, and a ton of running. Penn State is definitely not responsible for what I say.


2 thoughts on “Snake Handlers: Can Religion Be An Addiction?

  1. Interesting thought that needing the emotional experience of religious experience could be an addiction. I’ve been exploring that with my care team, especially in light of recent events. I’ve stopped experiencing religious experiences of the Divine and of Community, and am losing faith in general (oops!). My mental illness (bipolar) had pushed many of my experiences into manic episodes of religious experiences, and so, now that I’m properly medicated I won’t experience those manic highs anymore. And apparently I relied on them to fuel my faith. So… it was an addiction of sorts for me, since it kept my faith going.
    But we’ve also been looking at how religious upbringing in my family of origin set me up for this addiction as well.
    Just some thoughts.
    So, where DO those of us exploring the next phase of religion go?

    Posted by revdebmatt | June 21, 2012, 3:07 PM
  2. Have you heard of Kathy Escobar’s church, The Refuge? I’ve never been, but I think it might be similar to the support group that you are describing.


    Posted by Heretic Husband (@HereticHusband) | June 17, 2012, 7:25 AM

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